Attractions Expert Q&A: Eddie Sotto
Award winning designer, speaker, and author, Eddie Sotto was named one of the 1,000 most creative people in America. Sotto spent 13 years as SR VP of Concept Design at Walt Disney Imagineering.
By Kendall Wolf
At Disney, Sotto led the design of Main Street U.S.A. for Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disneyland master planning (including the breakthrough Pooh’s Honey Hunt trackless ride), launched Mission: Space at Epcot, the Indiana Jones attraction at Disneyland, and other conceptual programs.
In 2004, Eddie opened SottoStudios.com, a experiential design team that has designed on behalf of brands such as Universal Studios, Porsche, Aston Martin, Ferrari, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic, to name a few.
What theme park souvenir might we be surprised to find on your shelf?
A bronze builders (sample) plaque from the Main Street Disneyland Paris Sidewalk. Reads “Elias Disney Contractor 1901″. It’s a good reminder that details matter.
What theme park have you always wanted to visit but have never been to?
Efteling in the Netherlands.
Was there a theme park or attraction that made you want to be in this industry?
Disneyland. Like designing for film, it was immersive and a total world. It was also positive and appealed to the better nature in everyone.
What was your favorite ride/attraction as a child?
I had many, but Mr. Toad was a favorite as a small boy that hoped to drive. Then at 9 years old, Pirates of the Caribbean blew my mind and I knew I wanted to design stuff like that.
Was there a ride, attraction or character that frightened you as a child?
One of the smaller caves on Tom Sawyer Island. As a child, I got trapped in a dead-end portion behind a crowd of people and was pushed against the wall bent over, not able to move for some time, and it became claustrophobic. Not fun! Otherwise, live talent like train robbers, clowns, mimes, and stuff like that.
What was the oddest or coolest job you’ve had in a theme park?
As an Imagineer, being able to be a character voice heard on Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris steam trains as the conductor (“Last call, all aboooooard!”), or an upstairs window (dentist) on Main Street at Disneyland and Disneyland Paris, or a Genie, and Shrunken Ned talking arcade machines in Adventureland. They’ve been there for decades and are always fun to visit.
What ride/attraction do you think everyone needs to experience and why?
The Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland as it is a series of hidden reveals right in front of you as the room unfolds through music, like a puzzle box and builds on itself.
If you were tasked with creating a new theme park food – what would it be?
I used to be a partner with an avant-garde chef designing a restaurant, and he taught me how to appreciate food as experience, so I see it more that way now. But to answer more directly, something portable that chemically compliments and enhances the ride or show experience you are about to enjoy. Why do we eat heavy foods in the heat then spin and puke? Too often caffeine and sugar are the reasons kids go nuts in line and can’t stand still long enough to enjoy a show, or become dehydrated because they are drinking soft drinks in the sun. The food is not currently designed in context to the environment or the experience. Imagine if it was!
You’re a walk-around character for a day. Who do you choose?
I was a penguin from Mary Poppins once, not my choice, but probably Tigger (as I can play myself.)
What types of attractions would you like to see more of and why?
Historically based original attractions, not based on movies. Instead of telling ourselves the stories we already know, why not learn about what really happened in those “lands”? I’d rather experience a romanticized Jean Laffite Island than a fictional pirate that’s better on TV. There is room for IP of course, but good parks have a mix of entertainment across ages, and every meal does not have to have a character at your table.
Do you have an interesting theme park pandemic story?
In 2020 we put together our own team of scientists and operators to look at creating a safe bubble of screened guests via a digital breath sensing system that sees more than Covid, but with high accuracy and near instant results, which allows the operator to safely admit only well people. It works in the lab, but is still in testing and will at some point be an amazing gamechanger.
Can you talk about what you are working on these days?
To a degree. We are showing at IAAPA Expo and developing some breakthrough observation ride tech with Medici Machines called Thrillboard, which is an alternative to the Ferris Wheel most cities default to erecting, but as they tell us, are not nuts about. Also reimagining sports venues for another client, while designing a new attraction overseas for another.
You are going to your favorite theme park – which industry people (dead or alive) are you taking with you?
Herb Ryman, John DeCuir Sr., CV Wood, John Hench, and Dave Bradley. Separate cars; separate checks.
Kendall Wolf is a long-time consultant in the themed entertainment industry. She has worked with designers, producers, and fabricators to help developers create unique and successful projects around the world. In 2017, she introduced Merlin Entertainments to a development group in Sichuan province for the first Legoland park in China. Kendall continues to consult for the developer to open more themed resorts in China.